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So here we are finally at Chapter 5 (“In The Trenches”) dealing with the day after the legend was made. The men who weren't already in trenches were moved behind the guns...then moved again...and again, because finding a place that was safe from shells and the Spanish sharpshooters (which they couldn't place from their entrenched positions because of the smokeless powder, of course) took about three hours. “Moreover, in one hollow, which we thought safe, the Spaniards succeeded in dropping a shell, a fragment of which went through the head of one of my men, who, astonishing to say, lived, although unconscious, for two hours afterward.” The next 24 hours were “cold comfort,” not only because they were bundling and nesting with whatever blankets, hammocks, etc. they found on the previous day's batch of dead Spaniards, but food was at a premium. Oh, the ammunition was making it through in great quantity, but for the most part they were stuck with rationed hardtack Bet they were sorry they scoffed at that “canned fresh beef” then.

The freshly-dug entrenchments turned out to be less than scientific—adequate for safety, if not optimal for defense or access. Do you know what a traverse is in trenching terms? Neither did Roosevelt, who had never even seen a trench until his guys captured the ones dug by the Spanish troops. While nobody actually got hit going in or out of the trenches, that didn't mean it wasn't an adventure:

Under the intense heat, crowded down in cramped attitudes in the rank, newly dug, poisonous soil of the trenches, the men needed to be relieved every six hours or so. Accordingly, in the late morning, and again in the afternoon, I arranged for their release. On each occasion I waited until there was a lull in the firing and then started a sudden rush by the relieving party, who tumbled into the trenches every which way. The movement resulted on each occasion in a terrific outburst of fire from the Spanish lines, which proved quite harmless; and as it gradually died away the men who had been relieved got out as best they could. Fortunately, by the next day I was able to abandon this primitive, though thrilling and wholly novel, military method of relief.

When the hardtack came up that afternoon I felt much sympathy for the hungry unfortunates in the trenches and hated to condemn them to six hours more without food; but I did not know how to get food into them. Little McGinty, the bronco buster, volunteered to make the attempt, and I gave him permission. He simply took a case of hardtack in his arms and darted toward the trenches. The distance was but short, and though there was an outburst of fire, he was actually missed. One bullet, however, passed through the case of hardtack just before he disappeared with it into the trench. A trooper named Shanafelt repeated the feat, later, with a pail of coffee. Another trooper, George King, spent a leisure hour in the rear making soup out of some rice and other stuff he found in a Spanish house; he brought some of it to General Wood, Jack Greenway, and myself, and nothing could have tasted more delicious. (pp. 162-3)

The musketry and the cannon weren't doing a whole lot of good with the front line conditions that prevailed. So the regular artillery was pulled off the firing line and...and... can't possibly be! Not after all this time!


If you remember waaaay back in October, I mentioned that the dynamite gun used compressed air to fire explosive projectiles, and I was overloaded with disappointment when they kept pulling it out of my grasping fingers. Now, finally, we get the dynamite gun in action! And now that we're at that point...well...

Did you ever have a particular toy you had a massive itch to get for Christmas or your birthday? It loomed so large in your imagination, and if you could get that one present, the very existence of the concept of gift-giving would be vindicated and the sun would come out on the Fourth of July! And then you unwrapped it, and it was a crappy piece of shoddy plastic with a sheet of peel-off stickers that you were expected to stick on yourself with your clumsy six-year-old fingers. Nothing could match the shining perfection you had built up in your memory, and as it sometimes turned out, nothing did. Remember kids: you can carry a talent for creating anticlimax through adulthood...unless you learn how to live your life right.

Wow, that was (ach-HEM) alarmingly specific. Anyway, the point of that rant is that the glory of the dynamite gun was an extremely mixed bag once they rolled it out to the line.

The dynamite gun was brought up to the right of the regimental line. It was more effective than the regular artillery because it was fired with smokeless powder, and as it was used like a mortar from behind the hill, it did not betray its presence, and those firing it suffered no loss. Every few shots it got out of order, and the Rough Rider machinists and those furnished by Lieutenant Parker—whom we by this time began to consider as an exceedingly valuable member of our own regiment—would spend an hour or two in setting it right. Sergeant Borrowe had charge of it and handled it well. With him was Sergeant Guitilias, a gallant old fellow, a veteran of the Civil War, whose duties were properly those of standard-bearer, he having charge of the yellow cavalry standard of the regiment; but in the Cuban campaign he was given the more active work of helping run the dynamite gun. The shots from the dynamite gun made a terrific explosion, but they did not seem to go accurately. Once one of them struck a Spanish trench and wrecked part of it. On another occasion one struck a big building, from which there promptly swarmed both Spanish cavalry and infantry, on whom the Colt automatic guns played with good effect, during the minute that elapsed before they could get other cover. (pp. 164-5)

That's right, the stupid thing could only squeeze off a few shots before it needed several hours' worth of tweaking before you could fire it again...and tweak it again. Sure it was effective...when it worked. Even a mention of the blessed smokeless powder can't get a rise out of me now. It's like Charlie Brown getting all those rocks on Halloween.

The Colt automatic guns had issues of their own, mainly because, being tripod mounted, the extreme weight made them impossible to move without the mules, and the “delicate” mechanism got out of whack just as easily as the dynamite gun. The Colts didn't even use the Krag ammo that the Americans had piled up from here to the New Year, but Mauser shells, which they managed to capture from the Spanish. “Parker took the same fatherly interest in these two Colts that he did in the dynamite gun, and finally I put all three and their men under his immediate care, so that he had a battery of seven guns.”

Roosevelt singles out Parker here as his MVP:

I do not allude especially to his courage and energy, great though they were, for there were hundreds of his fellow-officers of the cavalry and infantry who possessed as much of the former quality, and scores who possessed as much of the latter; but he had the rare good judgment and foresight to see the possibilities of the machine-guns, and, thanks to the aid of General Shafter, he was able to organize his battery. He then, by his own exertions, got it to the front and proved that it could do invaluable work on the field of battle, as much in attack as in defence. Parker's Gatlings were our inseparable companions throughout the siege. After our trenches were put in final shape, he took off the wheels of a couple and placed them with our own two Colts in the trenches. His gunners slept beside the Rough Riders in the bomb-proofs, and the men shared with one another when either side got a supply of beans or of coffee and sugar; for Parker was as wide-awake and energetic in getting food for his men as we prided ourselves upon being in getting food for ours. Besides, he got oil, and let our men have plenty for their rifles. At no hour of the day or night was Parker anywhere but where we wished him to be in the event of an attack. If I was ordered to send a troop of Rough Riders to guard some road or some break in the lines, we usually got Parker to send a Gatling along, and whether the change was made by day or by night, the Gatling went, over any ground and in any weather. He never exposed the Gatlings needlessly or unless there was some object to be gained, but if serious fighting broke out, he always took a hand. Sometimes this fighting would be the result of an effort on our part to quell the fire from the Spanish trenches; sometimes the Spaniards took the initiative; but at whatever hour of the twenty-four serious fighting began, the drumming of the Gatlings was soon heard through the cracking of our own carbines. (pp. 167-8)

Roosevelt also gave all due credit to the cavalry regulars, who were held up as the standard of excellence, and T.R. was extremely proud that the Rough Riders were treated as equals. Of course, Roosevelt indirectly toots his own horn by tooting the horn of his guys, which may be justified to a degree: “In less than sixty days the regiment had been raised, organized, armed, equipped, drilled, mounted, dismounted, kept for a fortnight on transports, and put through two victorious aggressive fights in very difficult country, the loss in killed and wounded amounting to a quarter of those engaged. This is a record which it is not easy to match in the history of volunteer organizations. The loss was but small compared to that which befell hundreds of regiments in some of the great battles of the later years of the Civil War; but it may be doubted whether there was any regiment which made such a record during the first months of any of our wars.” The digest version: We were awesome because they were awesome, and I just didn't have the heart to suck while they were in the room.

As the day of the 2nd wound on, the fighting dwindled to fits and starts, but while the sharpshooters in front of the line were making occasional problems, the guerrillas, who were still lingering in the trees behind the American lines, were indiscriminately popping caps at everybody they could find. “At times they fired upon armed men in bodies, but they much preferred for their victims the unarmed attendants, the doctors, the chaplains, the hospital stewards. They fired at the men who were bearing off the wounded in litters; they fired at the doctors who came to the front, and at the chaplains who started to hold burial service; the conspicuous Red Cross brassard worn by all of these non-combatants, instead of serving as a protection, seemed to make them the special objects of the guerilla fire.” It didn't help a bit that the Spanish were told all kinds of nonsense about Americans showing no quarter with captured prisoners, and therefore they would fight to the end unless they were talked down from the ledge. Regardless, these pests had to be smoked out, so he sent out a party of “first-class woodsmen” to go squirrel hunting.

My sharp-shooters felt very vindictively toward these guerillas and showed them no quarter.

Now what the hell did I just get through saying about that “no quarter” crap??! I even put it in italics! Italics = important! Jeez...maybe I'm still bitter about that dynamite gun.

They started systematically to hunt them, and showed themselves much superior at the guerillas' own game, killing eleven, while not one of my men was scratched. Two of the men who did conspicuously good service in this work were Troopers Goodwin and Proffit, both of Arizona, but one by birth a Californian and the other a North Carolinian. Goodwin was a natural shot, not only with the rifle and revolver, but with the sling. Proffit might have stood as a type of the mountaineers described by John Fox and Miss Murfree. He was a tall, sinewy, handsome man of remarkable strength, an excellent shot and a thoroughly good soldier. His father had been a Confederate officer, rising from the ranks, and if the war had lasted long enough the son would have risen in the same manner. As it was, I should have been glad to have given him a commission, exactly as I should have been glad to have given a number of others in the regiment commissions, if I had only had them. Proffit was a saturnine, reserved man, who afterward fell very sick with the fever, and who, as a reward for his soldierly good conduct, was often granted unusual privileges; but he took the fever and the privileges with the same iron indifference, never grumbling, and never expressing satisfaction. (pp. 172-3)

Forgive me if I do the "never expressing satisfaction" bit without the more redeeming "never grumbling" part accompanying it, but I'm still bitter about that dynamite gun. Should've asked for a lousy BB gun when I started the book...

Next: The night of the day after. Sorry, that's all you're getting tonight, ya dynamite gun-totin' jerks...


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